In Outcry Over Siege, Two Indias Emerge

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai's main train station, was one of several sites struck last month by heavily armed terrorists. As many as 48 people were killed.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai's main train station, was one of several sites struck last month by heavily armed terrorists. As many as 48 people were killed. (By Manish Swarup -- AP)
By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

MUMBAI, Dec. 8 -- In a dilapidated neighborhood along Tulsi Pipe Road, a shoe store proprietor, David Ronel, recalled the series of seven train bombings in 2006, one of them at the Mahim Junction station, just across from his shop. He and other merchants along the dusty street rushed to carry out the injured and the dead.

The attacks, which occurred on a weekday in July at the peak of evening rush hour, killed 209 people and wounded more than 700. The bombings were thought to have been carried out by the same Pakistan-based group, Lashkar-i-Taiba, that authorities suspect organized the recent siege of Mumbai.

But Ronel, 34, said he did not recall the train bombings eliciting the kind of street protests, political resignations, candlelight vigils and procession of talk show personalities expressing fury and analysis that followed last month's attacks.

"For the train bombings, the outrage was there, but it was never really heard," Ronel said, his hands black from shoe polish. "More people died in the train bombings, but they were ordinary Indians, not high-society industrialists or foreigners or film industry people. Where were the protest marches after the train attacks?"

The recent siege brought terrorism to the doorstep of India's affluent and struck at the symbols of their prosperity. India's expanding elite, which has felt somewhat insulated from the heat, traffic, sporadic electricity outages and overall commotion in this fast-paced city, suddenly felt vulnerable.

In India, terrorists have usually targeted crowded markets and trains, seldom frequented by the wealthy. Typically, the victims have been the poor, including taxi drivers, deliverymen, shopkeepers and street sweepers. But the gunmen who struck several sites in Mumbai late last month focused much of their rage on the city's two most luxurious hotels and its most likely guests: business executives, socialites, Bollywood film directors and political bigwigs.

Never before has a terrorist attack in India brought such raw outrage and calls for sweeping changes in government. A public interest lawsuit was filed against the government over the failure to protect citizens. It was backed by some of Mumbai's richest, including stock analysts, lawyers and real estate tycoons. Billboards bearing the words "Jago, Mumbai, Jago," or "Wake up, Mumbai," went up in upper-class neighborhoods.

"The hard reality of this country is that we are living in two Indias. One is for the rich, who matter, and one is for the poor, who are invisible," said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer who runs Social Jurist, a group that litigates education cases on behalf of the marginalized sections of society. "In India, you can use the poor for your benefit. He should cook your meals, wash your utensils, scrub your clothes, but when it comes to doing justice for the victims of other bombings, there wasn't this level of outrage. When poor people were attacked, the country wasn't suddenly insecure. This is a fundamental injustice, and it has led to authorities ignoring attacks."

Mumbai, with more than 14 million people, is India's most populous city and has often suffered tragedy. In 2005, monsoon flooding killed more than 400 people in the city in one day, and the main victims were the poor. One Indian media study found that a fashion event got more local coverage than the flooding, which affected many slum dwellers. Mumbai is home to Asia's largest slums.

Although India's economy is booming, poverty runs deep. Nearly half of all Indian children are clinically malnourished or underweight, on par with the rate in Bangladesh and worse than in Ethiopia, according to UNICEF. Even as the economy has grown by up to 8 percent, child malnutrition has declined only one percentage point, to 46 percent, in seven years, according to a 2007 National Family Health Survey, part of a government report.

A December government study found that the majority in India live on 50 cents a day. At the same time, the number of dollar millionaires has increased to 100,000, according to government data.

India's rigid caste system, a centuries-old social order under which status is inherited at birth, has long affected societal attitudes, Agarwal said. Lower castes, along with Muslims and other tribal groups, make up nearly 70 percent of India's 1.1 billion people.

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